Anatomy of a Great Virtual Collaborator
By Nancy Settle-Murphy

Posted March 06, 2015

Most people I know love working remotely. They say they get more done, prize their freedom and flexibility and have better work/life balance. But there are others who really miss being with people and feel isolated and lonely much of the time. People often ask me what qualities are the most important predictors of a successful virtual collaborator. Here are seven that come to mind.

  1. Social butterflies tend to thrive.
    May seem ironic, but sociable people crave contact with others and are motivated to maintain connections, either virtually – through phone, email or social networking tools—or face-to-face, when they can. Introverts who find it painful to stop and chat with an officemate may find it harder to cultivate social connections in a virtual world. For someone who’s introverted, social bonds are almost impossible to create and keep up when working from afar.
  2. Excellent organizational skills.
    Virtual workers have to be more self-motivated and disciplined than their office colleagues, since they don’t have anyone dropping in to remind them of a deadline. Virtual workers have to set up their own systems for reading, filing and accessing content, performing tasks and reporting progress. Those who are chronically disorganized or need constant reminders are likely to struggle in a virtual world, with no one there to look over their shoulders.
  3. Manages time across many dimensions.�
    Virtual workers must be adept at managing their calendars and synching up with others, since conversations and meetings must be so well-orchestrated. They need to be disciplined and realistic about keeping their own calendars, too. While some cram too many meetings into a single workday, forcing them to work after-hours or risk falling behind, others take too much time off for non-work activities, simply because no one is watching. Those who have a realistic sense of how much time they need to get their work done will do much better than those who can’t.
  4. Willing and able to use a variety of tech tools with ease.
    Social networking apps, shared repositories, instant messaging, web meeting tools, blogs, wikis, telepresence –and more—have become commonplace for virtual teams. Virtual workers have to know how tools work and which works best in a given situation. Those who are slow to adapt may find themselves left out of important online conversations or getting only a fraction of the information they need.
  5. Listens carefully.
    Virtual workers need to be able to hear verbal cues and read written clues to discern what’s really going on for others. People from “high context” cultures, where both the context and the words themselves are considered as key parts of the overall message, tend to be more successful than those who take another’s words simply at face value. Those who don’t listen deeply, including those who chronically multitask during team calls, may never get a sense of what’s behind the spoken words.
  6. Knows what to communicate, how and when.
    People who know how to organize their thoughts into cogent, concise messages have a significant advantage over those who struggle to put their ideas into writing. Knowing what medium works best for a particular message or a certain situation is a vital skill for those who have few chances to make amends if a message is misunderstood or misinterpreted.
  7. Ignites own spark.
    People who can move ahead without a lot of direction or guidance on a day-to-day basis are far more likely to be successful in a virtual world, where workers must work with a high degree of ambiguity and the absence of information, sometimes for long periods of time. Those who crave constant feedback or need frequent affirmation may stagnate in a virtual world.

As much as one-tenth of today’s workforce works virtually at least part of the time. That’s about three times the percentage as those who worked remotely less than 10 years ago. Some workers are forced into leaving their offices for the virtual world, and some managers don’t have a choice about which team members leave the office. But where there is a choice, think about this combination of qualities as the profile of an ideal virtual collaborator.

Chime in if you think I’ve left some key ones out.

Posted by Nancy Settle-Murphy